Album reviews: John Sheppard, Max Richter, Les Vents Francais


John Sheppard "Sacred Choral Music" (Delphian)

Sixteenth-century composer John Sheppard’s works have only begun to be restored to the choral canon since their rediscovery in the 1970s. But performed here by the Choir of St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh under the direction of Duncan Ferguson, these pieces show him to be fully the equal of Byrd, Tallis and Taverner. With its ecstatic, keening trebles layered over a densely woven bed of lower-register voices, “Libera nos, salva nos I” makes a sublime short opener, while the influence of Taverner is clearly evident in the florid melisma of “Gaude virgo Christiphera”. Elsewhere, “Missa Cantate” is a complex four-part Mass, while “Reges Tharsis et insulae” exploits the cathedral’s wonderful acoustics to the fullest with intense singing in all parts.


Download: Libera nos, salva nos I; Reges  Tharsis et insulae; Gaude virgo Christiphera; Missa Cantate; Verbum caro

Max Richter "Memoryhouse" (FatCat)

Originally released in 2002, but reissued here as a heavyweight vinyl double-album, Memoryhouse is a landmark work of contemporary classical music, occupying the bleakly beautiful space between abstract electronica, the religious minimalism of Arvo Pärt, and the comfortingly cyclical progressions of Ludovico Einaudi. The latter’s influence is evident in the rippling piano motifs of “The Twins” and “Andras”, while the keening string tintinnabulations of “Landscape with Figure (1922)” testify to the shadow cast by Pärt. Elsewhere, the wan electronics of “Laika’s Journey” encapsulate the lonely plight of the celebrated canine cosmonaut; and a piercing, poignant soprano figure is gradually embalmed in emotive strings through “Sarajevo”. Richter yokes together these 18 fragments with a calm, eulogistic grace.


Download: Europe, After the Rain; Maria the Poet; Laika’s Journey; Sarajevo

Les Vents Français "French Music For Winds/20th Century Wind Quintets" (Warner Classics)

Pairing a disc apiece of French wind quintets and 20th Century wind quintets, this set offers a fascinating portrait of inter-war musical manners in the last century. The 20th-century disc ranges from a delightfully animated rendition of Ligeti’s “6 Bagatelles for Wind Quintet” to the arch charm of Zemlinsky’s “Humoreske”, which, leading into Barber’s “Summer Music”, gives the impression of film music evocative of American smalltown mores. The tone extends in a European manner through the French CD, with, among other things, the cheerfulness of Jacques Ibert’s “Trois Pièces Brèves” reflecting a relieved continent dispelling the shadows of the Great War.


Download: 6 Bagatelles For Wind Quintet; Sonatine For Oboe & Bassoon; Summer Music; Le Tombeau De Couperin